The jury is out: In lots of ways

It's 2017; things are heating up, but the jury is out. The world economy is showing life and so is the legal profession. After eight years of Democratic party executive control, layoffs have fallen to the lowest level in more than four decades, indicating a labor market that continues to add jobs. The stock market is soaring, and business executives at companies such as General Electric and Dow Chemical are meeting with the new president. Reportedly, they like what they are hearing. The aviation industry, which had been struggling for a long time, has suddenly shifted into warp speed. The airline companies' past poor mouthing resulting in everything from less leg room to additional charges for luggage, and on some airlines even paying for soft drinks are now flying high with packed planes at the same time they are complaining they can't get new equipment delivered fast enough. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that both Airbus and Boeing needed to build 30 percent more planes annually to meet their existing orders. One can almost see the lawsuit blips on the radar screen.

Even in old-fashioned world-wide industries, like mining, companies such as Glencore and Aglo American claim to be turning things around. Meanwhile, in the high-tech world, the new internet companies which seem to be expanding faster than the universe, are starting to collide. In one high profile lawsuit, Google's parent sued Uber over self-driving cars and the alleged theft of Google's trade secrets. We can count on the fact that the hotter the economy gets, the busier things will be for big business attorneys. Further, the growth of new companies and big deals will have a trickle-down effect to various suppliers, contractors and eventually lawyers.

As more conservative, theoretically more business-oriented, governments are elected worldwide, economic confidence ought to be building. Still there are signs of uncertainty. You would think there would be a lot of big merger action. Nevertheless, two of the world's largest auto companies, Renault and Nissan, are having difficulties in merger talks, and the proposed combinations of Big Health Insurance Companies, Aetna and Humana and Cigna and Anthem, are circling the drain.

Last week I had lunch with Jim, a former client and real estate developer. In the halcion days of strip mall development, Jim was one of the leaders in the game; but he was highly leveraged. By 2010, Jim was treading water, his empire in shambles, and his spectacular house gone. (I have represented many developers, and when their businesses failed it didn't do much good for me, or for many of my fellow lawyers who represented similar clients.) Today, however, Jim has dusted himself and his banking relationships off, and has entered the multi-family housing market. He is also once again buying and building strip malls across the country. Although doing well, he is cognizant of the increasingly bad forecast for many brick-and-mortar retailers. He worried out loud about the recently announced closing of all 250 of The Limited stores.

Jim mentioned another former developer client of mine who had specialized in multi-family developments and lost his palace-like house. He left the country during the hard times, but is back in the saddle again. Jim wanted to know what I thought about the future of business and law and the Trump administration's impact on both. Unfortunately, my questions to him were exactly the same. Unarguably the rollout of the Trump presidency is getting a lot of negative press. In fact, "the Donald" has gone after the Democratic party, which is predictable; the press, which is not surprising; Wall Street, which is a little confusing; and American intelligence and investigative agencies, which is shocking. It is not clear which way things will go, either with respect to administration policies, or the economy. From a legal standpoint, work will be generated either way, but a good economy will be a lot better than a bad one. I told Jim that perhaps making enemies of the press and the intelligence community might be a strategy that will work for the Trump administration and for the country overall, but that the tactic seems perilous to me.

The press already thinks it has a moral dictate and sacred responsibility to ferret out inappropriate activities. Providing the press with an extra incentive (by calling many of them crooked and fake) will not lessen its zeal. From the perspective of both a lawyer and a writer, I think about the often quoted warning "that it is inadvisable to get into a fight with anybody who buys ink by the barrel." I don't know of any quotes about the wisdom of the Executive department of the government getting into fights with its own intelligence agencies, but I can envision a headline in the Tehran Times: "U.S. Questions its own Intelligence."

Mistakes are made in virtually all large bureaucracies, and the Executive department of the United States is as big as they come. From a legal standpoint it's difficult to believe that the new administration's tendency to take off before filing a flight plan is the best method for piloting that bureaucracy. Casting the press and the intelligence community as enemies of the American people, hmmm? Well, let's just hope the Executive doesn't fly this particular plane into the mountain. In the meantime, I'll take a ginger ale. Stay tuned.

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© 2016 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm of Lashly & Baer. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.

Published: Fri, Mar 03, 2017

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